Tuesday, August 11, 2009


One of the wonderful things about walking the planet for a long time is that you get to understand where clichés and stereotypes come from. Annoying as they are, they are distilled from millions of man-years of Human Experience.

One such stereotype: the Curmudgeonly Old Man. I know there’s considerable truth to this one... because I am well on my way to becoming a Curmudgeonly Old Man my ownself.

Gripe, gripe, gripe. It’s one of the perquisites of advancing age, and I’m taking full advantage.

One of the things I gripe about is people who yak on their cellphones in inappropriate places. With millions of handy-dandy cellphones in use these days, it is perhaps inevitable that people will use them everyplace they can. In the toilet, f’rinstance. I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something vaguely insulting about someone talking to me on the phone while they’re crimping off a length...

Ethel: (talking on cellphone in the toilet) So, how’s by you, Sylvia?

Sylvia: Everything’s good. You know my granddaughter Rosalie, she plays the violin? She was just in a recital by her school.

Ethel: What did she play?

Sylvia: The William Tell Overture.

Ethel: Oooh... (grunt)... that’s a hard piece.

Disgusting as that is, though, at least it’s not dangerous. Except for the phone itself, which stands a significant chance of being fumbled and ending up face-to-face with the kids in the pool.

What is dangerous is the immensely popular habit many people have of trying to drive and talk on a cellphone at the same time. Plenty of studies have shown that talking on the phone while driving impairs your driving at least as much as having a BAC of 0.08% - legally impaired. And it matters not whether it’s hands-free - the impact on reaction time and the increased likelihood of being involved in an accident is the same or greater when hands-free devices - Bluetooth headsets and the like - are used.

All of this has to do with the parts of your brain that are involved with driving-related tasks. It seems that having a conversation without visual cues (unlike, say, talking to someone who’s in the car with you) involves those same loci in the cerebral cortex. All of which means a big increase in reaction time. You may think you can multitask, but your brain knows otherwise.

My former employer - the Great Corporate Salt Mine - commissioned a study about ten years ago, and that’s exactly what they found. Based on that study, they established a policy: Talk on any cellphone while driving on Company business... or talk on a Company cellphone while doing any kind of driving... and you’d be toast. Dead meat. Fired.

It makes sense. Imagine some Salt Mine employee getting in a serious wreck while talking Company business on his cellphone. Aside from the immediate, obvious human cost, plaintiff’s attorneys would have a field day going after the majorly deep pockets of the Salt Mine. It’s not hard to imagine an award in the nine-digit range.

And, as if that all were not bad enough, there are even idiots who text while driving. Since, unlike talking on the phone, texting requires that one look at one’s Hand-Held Device, it’s hard to imagine any activity more detrimental to one’s ability to drive safely. What’s more astonishing is, most people who text while driving know how dangerous it is... yet they continue to do it. A-fucking-mazing.

So how do you put a stop to it, given how difficult it would be to enforce a law against cellphone use?

Simple: Impose draconian sanctions on people who are involved in accidents while using cellphones while driving... whether they cause the accident or not. Say, a $20,000 fine for a property damage accident ($100,000 if texting was involved) - and mandatory jail time in the event someone is killed.

Sounds like something an Old Curmudgeon would come up with. What do you think?

Here’s a question for you. Be honest: Do you use a cellphone while driving? Do you text while driving? Inquiring minds want to know... when the fuck are you going to knock it off?

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